This question comes up fairly regularly in different places, and different ways.
Here’s my answer:
Forget about “practising” English, and do stuff (real stuff) in English instead. While constantly learning more and more new English.
That might sound like I’m being pedantic.
But I’m not.
Yes, a lot of people mean “do real stuff” when they say “practise” … but that’s not always how it’s understood or executed in the real world.
First, the idea of “practising with native speakers” is, at its core, selfish and rude. Nobody wants to be used to help you practise. And that’s how it feels when your on, say, the train or whatever and someone walks up to you and says, “Can I practise my English with you?”.
Sorry to burst your bubble.
But it’s true.
It’s kind of like a guy asking a girl to practise having sex with him so he can improve his technique.
Not really the most effective approach, right?
Like sex, people want to have real conversations WITH you. Whether that’s casually, or because a job needs to get done in the office.
If you want to practise technique, there are things you can do at home by yourself.
When people talk about “practise” they normally end up looking for easy, comfortable ways of doing it. This is why the English conversation school industry in, say, Japan (where I lived for 13 years), is booming… as is the online Skype teacher gig and, well, you get the idea.
How often do people who go to that kind of conversation school get good?
The problem is, we get good at what we do.
And if you’re only practising with teachers or conversation partners, well, that’s all you’ll get good at doing. Teachers are trained to understand you. No matter how bad your English is. So that doesn’t really prepare you for the real world.
The long and short of it is, there are better ways to approach mastering English. And the only time I advocate “practise” is with specific exercises, done alone, and as part of your focused, intensive learning time.
If you want my help transforming your English, go here:
Dr Julian Northbrook